On Wednesday, January 15, a trip to rowing practice turned deadly for Grace Rett, 20, a championship rower from Boston’s College of the Holy Cross.
Rett, an English and Psychology major, was dedicated to rowing, and even set a world record in December by rowing continually for 62 hours and 2 seconds. In January, the Holy Cross team traveled to Vero Beach for winter workouts, and on Wednesday morning they were headed for the water when the accident occurred.
The twenty-two team members were traveling toward the Vero Beach Rowing Club in a two-van convoy with Rett in the front passenger seat of the lead van. Both vans pulled into a turning lane, and the first van turned into oncoming traffic for unknown reasons.
Most of the impact was concentrated on the front passenger side of the van, where Rett was seated. Sadly, she suffered serious injuries from being crushed in the collision, which caused her to go into cardiac arrest and die.
“Words cannot express how utterly heartbroken we are at the loss of our beloved Grace,” Rett’s family said in a statement. “A warm-hearted, kind, and gifted young woman, Grace lived every second of every day with a contagiously positive spirit that enriched the lives of everyone around her.”
Twelve other people were injured in the accident, and several were listed in critical condition later that day.
A long history of serious accidents at the intersection of Indian River Blvd
Unfortunately, the Indian River Boulevard intersection where the crash occurred has a long history of serious accidents. In 2017 and 2018, there were more than 50 crashes near this intersection, according to data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. A 58-year-old bicyclist died in one of these accidents in February of 2018. Another 15 crashes injured people, some seriously.
Large passenger vans like the one Rett and her teammates were riding in also have a poor safety record for college athletes. In 2006, the NCAA released a 65-page travel safety guide for universities that discussed longstanding issues with large passenger vans.
“Many educational institutions have discontinued the use of these vans for transporting passengers, either removing them entirely from their fleets or restricting their use to carrying materials,” the guide says.
It goes on to say that if these vans are used, they shouldn’t hold more than 10 passengers, and drivers should receive appropriate training. There were 12 people in the Rett’s van when the accident happened. Holy Cross’ transportation policy requires students and staff to pass a road test and driver training course before driving university-owned or -leased vehicles.